The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) collects telephone interview data on behaviors for the leading causes of premature death and disability. Its validity has never been adequately studied. The authors replicated BRFSS methodology to validate self-reported cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors. Nine-hundred and eleven subjects from three upstate New York counties were interviewed between 1/89 and 5/90. Interviewees were offered physical examinations and laboratory testing for CVD risk factors; 282 men and 344 women participated. The authors studied validity by comparing objectively measured to self-reported CVD risk factors. Sensitivities for self-reported hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, obesity, smoking, and diabetes were: 43, 44, 74, 82 and 75%, respectively. Only smoking sensitivity differed by gender: men, 77%; women, 86%. Specificity was > 85% for all risk factors, except hypercholesterolemia in men (75%). Prevalence was underreported for hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, obesity, and smoking by 43, 50, 25 and 17%, respectively. Results suggest telephone survey research includes physiologic measurements for blood pressure, cholesterol, height, weight, and smoking to validate self-reported CVD risk factors. When this is impossible, results such as these can be used, in similar samples, to correct risk factor prevalence rates from telephone surveys for misclassifications.